Resistance to Change

In general, I’ve found that people are very slow to change what they do if they change at all. No matter how many facts, charts and reports you show, many/most people will not heed the advice. This is true with many different things in life. For instance, most smokers, drinkers, criminals and drug addicts won’t kick their habits when faced with facts. Instead they choose to die or go to jail rather than change their ways. Another example is countless millions of people are overweight and unhealthy from not eating correctly. Most of them will not listen to common sense advice about healthy eating.

People are also very slow to change when it comes to accepting alternative building materials such as earthbags, straw bales and so on. You can show people books, model homes, videos, websites and on and on and most will not listen no matter how well the information is presented. For instance, a couple of years ago I met with earthquake engineers in Indonesia where their city was largely destroyed. They were in the middle of rebuilding everything like before with bricks and concrete, because that’s how they typically build. They haven’t yet taken the time to understand safer alternatives so they rebuild in the same way. This reminds me of Einstein’s definition of insanity — “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yeah, it’s crazy.

Look how well the Strawmark strawbale homes held up through the earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ. The proof is right in front of people. But do you see thousands of people in New Zealand rebuilding with bales? Not that I know of. Why not? Because people are slow to accept new ways of doing things and changing their ways.

Same is true with similar situations around the world such as earthbag building in Nepal. The only building left standing in one district was an earthbag school built by First Steps Himalaya. (See recent projects: In this case, the project leader was from their village and the community pitched in to build more earthbag buildings. Did earthbag building rapidly spread to surrounding villages and districts who know what happened? I’m pretty sure this hasn’t happened even though the story was in the newspaper, radio, etc. and locals are aware. So obviously it takes more than awareness, it takes more than seeing a website or article or hearing about something. In general, change is a long, slow process.

13 thoughts on “Resistance to Change”


    • Smoking killed my father and so I often warn young people not to smoke…

      Thanks for the comment though. Glad to hear of your project and I am totally blown away with how many people responded. It’s always a crapshoot publishing articles like this because you never know how people will respond. It’s much safer to post another picture or video of beautiful houses…

  2. Evolutionary psychology has a lot to say about this. When we’re fat and happy–or happy enough–we’re very resistant to change, even when the foundation of our happiness is unstable. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, right?

    The most rapid, dramatic changes happen when everything sucks and the perceived cost to experimentation is close to zero. I remember reading a story about some New Orleans school districts that were destroyed after hurricane Katrina. Since they had to totally rebuild whole school systems, they decided to experiment and did things you could never get away with in other contexts: they made everything a charter school, fired all the staff and teachers and re-hired people based on merit, didn’t let anyone unionize, and so on. The results have been astonishingly good, but of course you couldn’t actually re-do an existing district in that way because of all the toes you’d step on.

    But regardless, there are a lot of real impediments to natural building taking off. I got involved in the community 7 years ago but fell out of love for a couple reasons:

    1. natural buildings are hard to insulate properly, which matters if you’re not building in a high desert. High mass buildings in cloudy sea-level cold climates (or climates with cold winters) are energy pigs. Once you try to address this with modern insulation materials, you’re more or less in the conventional building world.

    2. Natural building has extremely high labor needs. This is fine in 2nd and 3rd world countries where labor costs are low, but in the developed world, forget it. Even if the materials are free, hired labor to do this stuff costs a ton.

    3. Building and energy codes make it all but impossible. Lots of info on this.

    4. Cultural barriers make people resistant to change the codes (#3). Nobody wants to live next to a “mud hut” when they could instead ensure that their neighbors live in neat-looking shingle-and-particleboard nightmares. Natural buildings are hard to make neat-looking, which is a plus for artistic hippie types, but a minus for everyone else, and impedes cultural acceptance.

    5. Natural buildings require a lot of maintenance in rainy climates. Earth plaster, even when stabilized, is going to require at least yearly re-application and touch-up. And forget about the roof. Roofs made out of thatch or palm fronds (been there) don’t last and need constant maintenance. Anywhere it actually rains, you’re going to end up building a conventional framed roof with conventional roofing materials, and again, once you’re here you’re basically in the conventional construction world.

    • Thanks for commenting. I agree with most of what you said. Here are a few things to consider.

      1. In my opinion, if the building is say 90%-95% natural sustainable materials then that’s way better than building with conventional concrete, etc.
      2. In developed countries such as the US and Canada it makes the most sense for owner-builders. That’s one reason I emphasize smaller, simpler houses.
      3. That’s why we’re often encouraging people to seek out rural areas with minimal codes.
      4. Good builders can make natural buildings blend right in and be practically unnoticeable. But like you say, some DIY natural builders try to be so creative that sometimes the homes look out of place.
      5. Use wide roof overhangs and natural plaster, particularly lime plaster, needs minimal maintenance.

      You gave the example of redoing the educational system in New Orleans. I heard Betsy Devos, the new Sec. of Education, is planning something similar. Wouldn’t that be something. I saw a graph last night showing how funding for the Dept. of Ed. has gone up at an astonishing rate since it’s inception, while the test scores have remained flat or even declined. Time to try something different I’d say.

  3. Hi Owen,

    I agree 100% with you

    In many places the culprit is building codes

    Here in South Africa you can build an earthbag / strawbale structure, but it must be signed off by a structural engineer. Which incurs more funds, the banks / mortgage lenders do not support these alternative building methods. So you have to fund your building project yourself.

    Regards and keep up chipping away at the closed minds ;-)

    • Thanks, Dion.

      Sooo… they take something that can be dirt cheap and simple (filling and tamping bags of soil) and end up making it more expensive and harder to obtain. That sounds like a scam.

  4. Too true. In the developed world this is really not going to change until planning laws change. That seems to be a long tedious process, with the authorities so dependant on perceived safety rules, which are in fact only decades old, using materials that are harmful to health and environment. It’s crazy.
    Step back even a hundred years and people knew all about more natural methods of building, from straw bale to cob to wooden houses.
    My mother’s family comes from Kenya, and her mother built their house from sticks and mud and sisal. It was beautiful.
    As a child I remember visiting the villages with thatched mud houses. Everything neatly organised for animals, humans and crops – coexisting in harmony. The whole family was part of maintaining the home- my mother was happily herding goats at the age of 5!
    Then concrete, paint and tin roofs became popular…supposedly a step up. These materials are expensive, and don’t age well. The homesteads started to deteriorate and the effect of a corrupt government meant that people really struggled to find the money to maintain the new structures. People started to lose the skills needed to build those beautiful thatched houses. I doubt that there are any children left in that area who have learnt to build a house by watching their mother. So sad.
    I’m determined to build my own house one day, in remembrance of my grandmother.
    Thank you for all the work you do to promote methods of natural, healthy, sustainable building.- you give me confidence to believe I can do it myself. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m sure it will be satisfying.
    Maybe one day there be a chain store providing natural building materials to the masses across the land. In the meantime the information you and others like you provide is invaluable.

  5. Owen

    People are creatures of habit, even bad habits. They do the same thing over and over. It takes something significant almost catastrophic for them to change. There can also be the local power structure that profits or remains in control from an existing method or process. They will do all they can to prevent change. But sometimes there can be a change that is so widely popular and is necessary by so many people they can’t stop it. Things like Natural building and tiny houses I think are two of those. The tide is swelling up and a tidal wave is coming.

    A lot of changes came about during the great depression of the 1930’s out of necessity some of these linger in society to this day. Many people who survived the Great Depression remained frugal throughout the rest of their lives, wary of banks, apt to hoard food, and suspicious of the stock market. So if you wonder why your parents or grand parents are this way, you may now understand better why.

    Owen you have showed people a better option for today’s environment. There are some adopters of the information you have so greatly shared but others will hold out to the bitter end even when it’s obvious things have changed. A natural propensity in people is they want to prove themselves right. It is like when a person buys a stock in expectation it will go up and it doesn’t. They will hold on to it long past the point they should have sold rather than admit to themselves they were wrong. I see it all the time.

    Countries or large groups of people can be like an aircraft carrier slow to turn but once it starts turning get out of the way.

  6. In speaking to this article, all you have said is true. It is true that change is very very slow. I have found that fear is the root of much of this issue, no matter if it is shrouded in safety regulations, politics, economics, etc. I myself will keep fighting the good fight with all the proper facts I can gather to improve the world in which I work and live in.

  7. Owen, I basically agree with you on the benefits of natural building. I can also see how judgment about people can hinder the process of getting them onboard. I guess it’s a little like selling something…all about establishing a relationship and trust.

    I got into natural / environmentally friendly building in the late 80s and despite my passion I am not living in the house of my dreams yet. Somehow life got in the way, and as long as I am still struggling to get my rent together at the end of the month certain things get pushed to the back burner again and again. For years sometimes. We each have to figure out our own priorities, even though at times that looks incomprehensible to others.

    In my healing practice I help people let go of old and outdated emotions so that they can move forward freely and be who they really are. Sometimes there is fast transformation, sometimes it takes longer. I get impatient with myself on occasion, but I know then I have to take a breath and remember that the only way I can go is forward.

    We can do it together… with compassion and understanding.

    Thanks for all you do to help this process.


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